Editor’s Note: this post was first published in 2010. (New posts on the C2C will return on January 7th, 2013.)
What I keep hearing from many of my readers is that the hard part isn’t keeping up with your writing schedule–it’s starting one in the first place.
The question I keep getting is this one:
“Ollin, how do I get off my lazy butt and START writing already?”
I completely understand this question. I’ve been there before and I can totally relate.
Often times getting started is just as hard as keeping yourself going. So let’s take a look at some steps you need to take today in order to get yourself off your lazy butt and begin your regular writing routine:
1. Unblock Yourself
For new writers who are either unfamiliar with the term or do not fully understand the term: a block means that you cannot write because some sort of psychological, emotional or spiritual baggage is keeping you from writing. Julia Cameron would say that if you are not writing that doesn’t mean that you are lazy–it means that you are afraid. You are terrified of either failing in your writing or (just as common) you are afraid that you might succeed in your writing. You are afraid that success might change your life, that you might move from a life you are comfortable and familiar with to a life that may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable to you. So, as Julia Cameron would say, the first thing you need to do to start writing is to admit that you aren’t being lazy–you are just terrified about what being a writer means. For those spiritually inclined I recommend reading “Floating Above The Water” for tips on how to unblock yourself spiritually. As far as your psychological and emotional blocks, I recommend starting a healthy psychological/emotional practice like keeping a journal or seeing a therapist regularly.
2. Find Your Form
I spent years trying to write in a form that was not mine: realistic fiction. I thought that I was supposed to write in this form because all of academia encouraged me to do so. I had trouble starting to write for the longest time because of this: I had been convinced that children’s fantasy fiction was far too “below me.” But that was an idea put there by high-minded intellectual-types. Once I realized that the university was wrong about what constituted “valid” literature and once I realized how powerful and wonderful fantasy fiction could be, I began to write the novel I always wanted to write: a fantasy fiction story based on Mexican-American mythology. (For details on how to discover your form, you should read: “Finding My Form.”)
3. Find The Right Idea
It’s important to find the right idea for a novel. The idea of your novel needs to excite you to no end, or it will be that much harder to get yourself to write it. Writing your piece is going to be a long long road and you must have an idea for a novel that you strongly believe in, or else it will be very hard for you to wake up every day to write it. I offer tips on how to find and nurture your most brilliant ideas here: “Hooked on The Right Idea.”
4. Get Motivated
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our love for writing does not motivate us. Writers need a lot more than our passion for writing to motivate us on a day-to-day basis. Feeling guilty because your passion for writing isn’t enough to motivate you is just a waste of time. Instead, what you need to do is utilize various tools to get your butt off the couch and your hands on the keyboard–and a strategy to make yourself stay there for long periods of time. I discuss in detail the tools you need to motivate yourself to write on a day-to-day basis here: “Motivation!“
5. Make Your Goal to Write The Worst Novel/Poem/Article Ever Written
Beginning writers often want the first line they ever write to sound like Shakespeare. When it doesn’t, these beginning writers will stop right away and wait months before they attempt writing again. Having unrealistic expectations for your writing is what prevents many writers from starting. Please don’t to that yourself! Do not demand that you be Ralph Ellison after one day. It’s not gonna happen. Instead, make your goal to write the worst novel ever written. That’s right, make your goal to suck horribly. You will always succeed in that, and when, by chance, you do write something brilliant, well then, your failure is also a success! The idea is that you need to become very comfortable with how much you will suck at first. (I discuss in further detail how lowering your expectations for your writing allows you to get more work done in my article: “Allowing Myself to Suck.“)
6. Make It Really Really Really Easy At First
I mean like really easy. Beginning writers often make the mistake of insisting that they have THE PERFECT writing schedule in place once they begin to write. When this perfect schedule doesn’t magically appear for a beginning writer, they instantly believe it is due to their inability to be a responsible adult, or because they’re just a bad bad writer. But starting the daily habit of writing is a lot like starting a daily exercise routine. Writing, like striving to be more healthy, is a LIFESTYLE change. And a lifestyle change DOES NOT happen over night. It never does. You need to give yourself some time to build up to a schedule. It took me a while to get where I am right now and please know that it will take you some time, too. Slowly building a writing schedule has nothing to do with how good a writer you are, or whether or not you’re a lazy butt–establishing a schedule is just a matter of time and patience. I recommend starting with a simple 15 min a day of writing, then increase this to 30 min, then an hour, and so on and so on, until you get to your ideal amount of time per day.
One Last Thing
One last thing before you go. If you get nothing else from this post let it be this: every writer made a decision one day to write, but getting to that place was incredibly difficult. We all have to go through that part. It’s hard, but most importantly, it’s perfectly normal. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Why not try this: instead of making your goal finishing your novel, a monumental feat at this stage of the game, just make your goal that you will START to write. Not your novel, just anything. Write anything. Make the first goal small, easy and doable and make it now. Don’t punish yourself if you don’t end up writing, but do reward yourself if you do.
Good luck to you.
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